Hampstead got its wish yesterday when the Carroll County commissioners agreed to let the town proceed with a plan that would see Old Hampstead Elementary School redeveloped into housing for low-income seniors.
The decision brings a tentative end to the five-year debate between town and county over the fate of the vacant school, which is maintained by the county school board.
"I was confident because this plan is what's best for everyone involved," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, who has described the school as a potential pillar in the town's Main Street revitalization plans.
Last month, the Hampstead Town Council voted its support for a development plan submitted by the partnership of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland and Westminster's Cadoux Development. County staff also approved the plan.
Struever will join the nonprofit Interfaith Housing to create about 90 apartments for seniors with maximum incomes of $28,000.
Struever will refurbish the U-shaped brick building that faces Main Street at Black Rock Road, demolish the 1960s addition in back and build an addition. The project would cost about $10 million, mostly paid with historic preservation and low-income housing grants. Interfaith would manage the apartments.
The county will only transfer the property to Hampstead, which would then donate it to Struever, if Struever has its financing in place. The developer probably will not have assurances on the grants until early next year. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier expressed concerns that the deal could fall apart, but that is unlikely, Nevin replied, given Struever's long record of successful redevelopments in Baltimore.
The housing would serve independent seniors, but an assisted-living development might follow if Struever and Interfaith can buy town-owned ball fields behind the school.
Under the agreement, the town would have to tell Struever within five years if the ball fields are available for development.
Commissioners Frazier and Donald I. Dell said they were concerned that the town and county might face backlash for converting parks into an assisted-living center. But the fields are so small they can be used only for tee-ball, and the town has plans to develop larger fields at a different site, Nevin replied.
The wording of the agreement would allow the town to continue using the ball fields until viable substitutes are completed.
The town and county received four development proposals for the elementary school, but only two were viable, Hampstead Town Manager Ken Decker said. Hampstead council members said they favored the Struever proposal because of the company's reputation for revitalization expertise.
Dell, who has raised questions about the project in the past few months, said he's comfortable supporting the recommendations of the town and county staff. "I don't want to hear about this anymore," he said with a smile.